Sexy Ani? Fashion at Sacred Armenian Ruins Raises Eyebrows

by | January 28th, 2011 | 2 comments
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Elle Turkey models have posed at the sacred medieval Armenian capital of Ani, raising criticism of sacrilege but also hopes that fashion, a field often perceived as being insensitive and cold, may raise awareness about a global heritage site on the verge of disappearance.

The French-language Collectif VAN, an Armenian organization in France, was among the first to react:

… The photos show a setting of breathtaking beauty. But no indication of place, no reminder – even implicitly — of the tragic story of the Armenian people or explanation of the state of desolation and abandonment of the churches of Ani, the jewels of Armenian architecture …

Collectif VAN also reminds that the Armenian Cathedral of Ani “suffered a desecration” when Turkish ultra-nationalists used it for an October 2010 public Muslim prayer, which was seen as a celebration of the destruction of Armenian culture.

According to what the ultra-nationalist organizers of the prayer told the BBC news outlet, they were actually celebrating “Turkish ruler Alp Arslan, who removed the cathedral’s cross and prayed there following his capture of Ani in 1064.”

Whether the fashion shoot also sought to celebrate the dying Armenian heritage in Turkey is unknown. Collectif Van hopes for the opposite:

… Maybe these photos will they [sic] at least have the merit of pushing some to wonder: what are those gorgeous ruins abandoned? Who built them? What happened to the Armenians in Turkey? Why have they disappeared from the face of the earth of Anatolia in 1915?

Will they know that Ani (Armenian Անի) was the capital of Armenia around the year thousand, and it is also called “Capital of the year one thousand” and “City of a thousand and one churches” ?

Ianyan Magazine, which was also quick to report the story, reposted some of many comments left under the photos at

… “By murderin people, occupyin their churches, leavin them in ruins and the mercy of nature and then using them as a background for some fashion show… and the civilized west simply “falls in love….[sic],” wrote a commenter named Ari.

Another commentator named Nat regretted the idea of politicizing fashion, but called the photo shoot “pretty tasteless” [and] drew parallels to other hypothetical situations.

“Would we want to see Naomi Campbell posing with a nice faux fur in a burned out synagogue somewhere? Or perhaps Gisele posing in work clothes around the gates of Auschwitz.”

While it’s considered a ghost city and has been uninhabited for over three centuries, Ani’s fallen churches and rubble against a backdrop for use in a fashion editorial in Turkey has clearly reopened old wounds for Armenians.

Fashion Inspirations by Raquel, a blog by a young historian and a fashion lover, has a post titled “Not sure how I feel about this:”

… I think taking such beautiful pictures of a forgotten city like Ani (thanks to the awful Turkish government) is more beneficial to the memory of a city that no longer technically belongs in Armenia than neglecting its history and existence. The women are covered up and respectably dressed. I feel this brings more positive attention than negative.

Jezebel: Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women: Without Airbrushing (a feminist blog) is not so generous. Jenna Sauers writes:

In 1064, Turkish armies laid siege to Ani, a bustling, largely Armenian city of 200,000. They were ordered to destroy Ani, and kill everyone they found. In 2011, Elle Turkey used the ruins left behind for a fashion story.

Sensitive! Especially considering the modern-day Turkish state’s highly contentious relationship with its neighbor, Armenia. The Ottoman genocide against Armenians is still a … [taboo] subject in Turkey, which doesn’t accept that the deportations, forced marches, and massacres that together killed around 1-1.5 million Armenians during World War I were in fact a genocide.

The siege and the destruction of the city in 1064, however, stands out in the minds of many Armenians as a particularly poignant example from the long history of Turkish attempts to suppress their culture. Just the place for photographer Senol Altun and stylist Melis Agazat to show off this season’s bag, then.

“To see Ani,” romanticizes an Armenian song, “and then die.” Seeing models there is no Armenian dream.

To see the photos from the Elle Turkey photo shoot, visit


  1. Elle Turkey

    A contemporary fashion shoot
    on a sacred site of the dead.
    A terrible beauty amidst haunting images
    of the ruins of Ani and the genocide.
    A terrible haunting beauty
    that I cannot fathom.

    Alan Whitehorn

  2. Ed says:

    Do not be surprised brothers and sisters. Turks’ ravaging hatred of the Armenians is at least partly explained by the fact that we built these magnificent works of art, while they have only slaughtered and pillaged. When we were creating illuminated manuscripts, they were flaying people alive. When we were sowing, they were spoiling. Such is the hatred of the spoiling people directed against people who created.